Who wants 66,000 tons of hot nuclear waste?

April 2006 file photo of Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
AP Photo
Today was another chapter in the never-ending fight over 66,000 metric tons of very hot nuclear waste that is currently stored all over the country.

In Washington today, South Carolina and Washington State argued before a federal appeals court that the Obama Administration should not have pulled the plug on the nuclear waste storage site in Yucca Mountain, Nevada last year.

"The government's decision to arbitrarily break federal law and derail Yucca Mountain is wrong and unconstitutional," said South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson in a statement. Wilson contends that Congress passed a law to build Yucca Mountain and then killed the project after spending $14 billion.

"Our concern is that waste find its way to a permanent disposal place where it's safe so our communities aren't exposed to the potential dangers from it," said Andrew Fitz, assistant attorney general for Washington state who argued the case before the court today.

But the appellate judges in Washington DC were not interested in the merits of the arguments from the states. Instead they said the case had come before them prematurely since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has yet to make a final ruling on Yucca.

Critics say the NRC is dragging it's feet. The NRC is led by Chairman Greg Jaczko who used to work for Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), the man who convinced the Obama administration to abandon Yucca Mountain.

Moving ahead on Yucca Mountain would be a tough political fight.

"Ultimately, if the US government wanted to do Yucca Mountain, it would have had to shove it down Harry Reid's throat," said Jeffrey Lewis, nuclear safety expert with the Monterey Institute.

According to an industry spokesperson from the Nuclear Energy Institute, even if Yucca Mountain was approved, the amount of nuclear waste around the country already exceeds the approved amount of space available in Yucca Mountain.

While Washington State, South Carolina and three other states are suing a reluctant federal government to come up with a long term solution to nuclear waste, there is at least one government entity who wants it.

Yucca Mountain is located in Nye County, Nevada, a county with a population of 50,000 spread over 18,000 square miles. Nye County officials say they want the 12,000 jobs that a federal waste site at Yucca Mountain will bring, even though their families will be in close proximity to thousands of metric tons of radioactive waste.

Citing dozens of scientific reviews, Richard Osborne, Nye County Manager told CBS News, "One of the reasons that I feel comfortable in supporting Yucca Mountain is that it is the most studied piece of real estate in the history of the world."